Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Bognor

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Bognor may have been painted in 1874 or 1875 and completed in 1876. 1


                Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Bognor, Freer Gallery of Art
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Bognor, Freer Gallery of Art

1874-1875: The butterfly signature suggests a date of 1874/1875, but is not a certain indication of the date of the picture. Whistler could perfectly well have visited Bognor on the south coast during this period, but no such visit is recorded.

1875: Whistler wrote from Speke Hall offering a painting to Cyril Flower (1843-1907) as well as to the London dealer Murray Marks (1840-1918). He wrote to Flower:

'Go round one morning to my place and look at a most lovely Nocturne in blue and silver … perhaps the most brilliant of the lot. I want 300 gs. for it … I am delighted with it myself and want to show it. … a large sea piece with some fishing smacks putting off - sky lovely and the sea of an immense distance and gleaming in the soft light of the moon … Go and see if ever you saw the sea painted like that! And the mystery of the whole thing - nothing apparently when you look at the canvas, but stand off … the wet sands and the water falling on the beach in the blue glimmering of the moon - and the sheen of the whole thing.' 2

It was presumably at the same time that Whistler wrote in similar terms to Murray Marks:

'You have several times said you would like to have a small picture of mine. Now here is a chance - There is a Nocturne in blue & silver just finished and at present in the drawing room at my place 2 Lindsey Houses - Chelsea …

It is a sea piece - large - and I think it one of my very finest, perhaps the most brilliant - Fishing smacks putting off - at night - Moonlight - I want 300 gs. for it.' 3

It is just possible, however, that Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Bognor was painted in Bognor when Whistler attended the opening of the Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875, on 8 September, before going on to Speke Hall.

1876: On 19 February 1876 William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) reported Whistler as having 'lately completed three interesting studies of landscape', one of which was probably this oil. 4 The dating of this picture relies heavily on what Rossetti meant by 'lately completed': if Whistler was working on site, it seems more likely that the picture was painted in the summer of 1875, but it could have been completed and varnished in 1876.

Notes:

1: 'Probably painted 1871/6' according to YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 100).

2: Whistler to C. Flower, [May/July 1875], formerly dated [July/August 1874], GUW #09093. In the letter, Whistler refers to the protracted illness of Whistler's mother, which could apply either to the summer of 1874 or, more likely, that of 1875. It implies that his mother was still kept to her room in Lindsey Row, which indicates that the picture predates August 1875, when she moved permanently to Hastings for her health.

3: [May/July 1875], formerly dated [February 1876], GUW #09300.

4: See the description by Rossetti 1876, Academy [more] , at p. 180.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret